Cayman’s first chikungunya case confirmed

Laboratory test results have shown that a Cayman Islands resident has chikungunya disease, making this the first confirmed case of the mosquito-borne virus reported in Cayman. 

The female patient, who is believed to have contracted the virus overseas, was released from the Cayman Islands Hospital last week and is no longer infectious, according to public health officials. 

“The PAHO/CDC [Pan American Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control] documents indicate the viremic period – meaning how long virus remains in the blood – is about four to five days after the onset of symptoms. Hence, we consider the patient is non-infectious thereafter, definitely a week after the onset of symptoms,” said Dr. Kiran Kumar, Medical Officer of Health. 

Health Minister Osbourne Bodden said in a statement released in the wake of the confirmation of the case that there was no evidence of local transmission of the illness.  

The minister sought to assure the public that the Cayman Islands healthcare system is “ready and able to treat anyone who should fall ill with the disease.” 

He added, “While [the Mosquito Research and Control Unit] will continue to do its part, we should all remain calm and follow their guidance in eliminating mosquito breeding sites around our homes and property. We must also protect ourselves from mosquito bites, which is the only way to prevent chikungunya.” 

The disease has spread rapidly since it first emerged in the Caribbean region in December last year. 

“Chikungunya is not directly transmitted from person to person, but a mosquito biting a person with chikungunya fever can spread the virus to another person. Hence, persons who develop symptoms within two weeks of having returned from countries with chikungunya cases are considered imported,” Dr. Kumar said.  

The patient, a George Town resident, contracted the virus while on a trip to a Caribbean island where the virus had been reported, and imported the virus to Grand Cayman on June 22, officials have said. The patient did not seek medical assistance until three days later when she started feeling joint pains – a common symptom. The patient confirmed that during those three days she went to work at her office. 

“Neither she nor I nor anyone can say with certainty that no local mosquito bit her,” said Dr. Kumar, adding, “Irrespective whether [a] local mosquito bit the patient or not, [the] public should protect themselves from mosquito bites and eliminate breeding sites in their yards.” 

A blood sample from the woman was sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency laboratory in Trinidad last week. The analysis was expedited within five hours of receipt of the sample, Mr. Bodden said. 

In case local Aedes aegypti mosquitos – the breed that carries the virus – contracted the virus from the patient during the three days before she went the hospital, the Mosquito Control and Research Unit carried out anti-mosquito fogging treatments at the patient’s home in George Town last Thursday. 

Director of MRCU, William Petrie, said he was sending a team of mosquito control officers to the patient’s yard again Tuesday.  

“We’re going to go back in to that same area and treat the same area again. I am also just in some discussions with colleagues about treating other areas [nearby] that we may go in to treat as a precautionary measure,” he said. “Even [if] there are no more cases, we may treat some other areas that we deem to possibly be at risk.”  

He said the Aedes aegypti mosquito travels only about 50 feet from its nesting site, which makes it easier to target potential carriers of dengue or chikungunya.  

“One fact about this mosquito is that it doesn’t travel long distances – it stays around human habitation – in the same yards where it hatched and emerged,” he said. 

Dr. Kumar said there is no reason for residents to be alarmed about the disease spreading at this stage. “While we need to be alert and take preventative measures, we need not be alarmed of one case. For Aedes mosquitoes to transmit chikungunya, they must bite infected persons, who then become infectious and transmit the disease,” he said.  

So far this year, 25 Caribbean countries have reported more than 4,970 confirmed chikungunya cases. 

Minister Bodden said the weekly updates on chikungunya would be forthcoming. 

Anyone experiencing symptoms and who may have been bitten by an infected mosquito should contact the Public Health Department on 244-2648 or 244-2632. 

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An MRCU mosquito control officer carries out anti-mosquito fogging in George Town last week after the chikungunya report emerged. – PHOTO: BRENT FULLER.

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